Saturday, March 25, 2006

Dry and verdant branches

In the July 2005 edition of Apollo Magazine, Clovis Whitfield describes the Arcadian landscapes of Francesco Cozza (1605-82). Whitfield is an expert on this period and a dealer in Old Masters (Whitfield Fine Art). The article reflects the connoisseurial importance of identifying Cozza’s landscapes and distinguishing them from more famous contemporaries and influences such as Claude, Poussin, Gaspar Dughet and Domenichino. For example, in discussing two paintings in the style of Claude, Whitfield says that “it is the figures in particular that suggest Cozza’s authorship, but the definition of the trees and foliage also reveals his handwriting.” From a landscape perspective it is perhaps these small differences in the natural elements that are most interesting. It is tempting to imagine that even fairly derivative work can hide a distinctive view of nature, even though Cozza’s trees and foliage are more likely simply to reflect his method of applying paint in the pursuit of idealised landscapes.

Here is a description of the way Cozza paints nature, in Clovis Whitfield’s discussion of a painting in the Rijksmuseum: “the dry and verdant branches of the trees, crossed trunks and sprouting mullein-like foliage on a dry and stony ground in the Amsterdam Hagar and Ishmael are a distinctive language. The trunks of the trees criss-cross the canvas in a way that recalls Poussin in his so-called ‘Silver Birch’ phase, with a dappled light catching the uneven bark. The branches seem to be laid out flat, like fern fronds, while it is the colouring that gives the foliage variety of appearance and depth.” Cozza’s landscape sounds caught between art and nature, both lifeless and alive, like those “dry and verdant branches”, or the “sprouting foliage on a dry and stony ground”.

Francesco Cozza, Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness, 1665
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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